More than 100 nonaligned nations backed Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear power on Wednesday, an endorsement sought by Tehran in its standoff with the U.N. Security Council over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.
The decision came as supreme Iranian leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei pledged to continue the country’s nuclear program.
Senior Iranian officials depicted the support from a high-level conference of the Nonaligned Movement as deflating claims by the U.S. and its allies that most of the international community wanted Iran to stop enrichment.
The conference’s backing, which echoes the group’s previous declarations, acts to “remove this notion that the international community opposes the nuclear activities of Iran,” said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s top representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the endorsement from the 115 countries present at the Tehran conference sends a “strong positive signal that the only way is negotiation and dialogue” over the nuclear standoff.
“Get the message,” he said, in blunt comments indirectly aimed at the U.S. and its Western allies, the nations at the forefront of accusations that Tehran wants to build nuclear arms. “Come to the negotiating table.”
Support was expressed in a three-page declaration in Farsi, translated by The Associated Press. It said the conference “reaffirmed the basic and inalienable right of all states, to develop research, production and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.”
The West is seeking an agreement for Iran to curb uranium enrichment, a process that can be use to generate nuclear power or build a weapon.
The U.S. and its allies say Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains its program is aimed at harnessing nuclear energy. The Security Council has slapped three sets of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. And a fourth set looms.
Only days remain until a deadline expires for Tehran to show it will stop expanding its enrichment program, at least temporarily, or face the threat of new U.N. sanctions.
The offer is meant to create space for the start of in-depth negotiations that the West hopes will end in Iran agreeing to permanently mothball its enrichment program in exchange for a package of economic and political concessions.
But there was no sign Wednesday that Tehran was willing to bend.
Khamenei said that backing down on enrichment in the face of “arrogant powers” would only benefit those six nations — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
That message was enforced later both by Mottaki, the foreign minister and Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA representative.
“We are not giving up our nuclear activities, including enrichment,” Soltanieh said.
The Nonaligned Movement is made up of such diverse members as communist Cuba, Jamaica and India, but most members share a critical view of the U.S and the developed world in general.
In a keynote speech Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “The big powers are going down. “They have come to the end of their power, and the world is on the verge of entering a new, promising era.”
A separate closing document took the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to task for indicting Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir by an international prosecutor on charges of genocide in Darfur. It also harshly criticized Israel on a broad range of issues. Iran assumed the chairmanship of the conference this week.